Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park features the largest hydraulic mining site in California, along with the remains of the town of North Bloomfield. The town name piqued my interest, since there’s a Bloomfield in Sonoma County, according to the Wikipedia, North Bloomfield wanted to be Bloomfield, but had to add the North since there was already a Bloomfield. Small world!
Anyway, in the heyday there were as many as 2000 residents. Only a handful of buildings remain, but they give a good sense of the type of construction and usage. There’s a nice museum, with cool period artifacts, including a press (sadly dusty and chained up, looked like it hadn’t been used in a while and I didn’t think to look for a brand/model name) and other tools. The nice ranger lady didn’t charge us admission since we were on our bikes. There were signs advertising a town tour at 1:30, but we just wandered around on our own and then went and checked out the Diggins.
There are some cabins you can stay at, and a pleasant-looking campground, although no one seemed to be taking advantage of the camping while we were there. We didn’t check out all of the trails, but the ones we did get on all seemed to be in good condition. It seems to be a quieter park, which I really enjoyed, and it’s nice that it’s been kept open.
The Diggins themselves are like another world. The scope of the entire operation of getting the water from miles away and the amount of material moved is mind-boggling. The years have softened the scars a bit, but it’s still pretty jarring to see the scope of this completely man-made canyon. The pictures don’t quite convey how incongruous the cliffs are, in the midst of the forest. Speaking of pictures, there’s the one of the mining in progress, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “before” picture of the area. I suppose it never occurred to anyone to take one. Makes you wonder if any of them had any qualms while they were doing it – ever looked at it all and said, “dang, we are making a bigass mess here.”
The people downstream definitely did realize a mess was being made – after years of flooding and crops and farmland being destroyed, a lawsuit was filed, and hydraulic mining was declared illegal in January 1884.